EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

November 24, 2010

Condos to pay $150,000 in discrimination suit

METHUEN — A Methuen condominium association has agreed to pay a $150,000 settlement on allegations it violated the Fair Housing Act by issuing fines of more than $500 against several families because their children were playing on the complex's outdoor common area.

The U.S. Justice Department reached an agreement with Stonecleave Village Association Inc., in which Stonecleave agreed to pay $130,000 to the victims and $20,000 in civil penalties, according to a press release issued yesterday by U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz.

In addition to the $150,000 payment, the condo's board members must undergo training on the Fair Housing Act. The settlement is subject to approval by the U.S. District Court.

The lawsuit against Stonecleave — which operates Stonecleave Village Condominiums, a 78-unit complex on Washington Street — was filed by Ortiz after an investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determined there was reasonable cause to believe that Stonecleave had violated the Fair Housing Act.

According to the department's findings, Stonecleave discriminated against families with children by issuing fines of more than $500 when their children played games, such as Wiffle ball and tag, on the outdoor common area.

Although the association's bylaws say organized sport activities are prohibited except in approved areas, the association did not fine adult residents for similar rule violations, according to court documents.

The fines issued include attorney fees of more than $427 per family with children, despite the fact that Stonecleave had not previously charged attorney fees to other residents when they were fined, according to the documents.

Ortiz also alleged that Stonecleave retaliated against one mother who filed a complaint of discrimination by charging her $1,000 to cover the costs of hiring an attorney to defend against her complaint.

Five families with children filed complaints with HUD, and the complaints were passed along to the U.S. Department of Justice.

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